Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Shmulie

Tonight (the 4th of Adar) I celebrate my 51st birthday. And so in honor of this most auspicious event, I wish my youngest brother Shmulie a very happy birthday with whom I share this occasion with.

Now I know what you're thinking. Big deal. So you share a birthday with a sibling. I mean after all, there are fifteen of you! Inevitably two of you are going to share the same birth date. So what's the big deal? OK. So it took 22 years for it to happen. Still, there are only so many days in a year to begin with.

The truth is, the odds of the two of us sharing the exact same birth date is quite low. Here I quote Wikipedia: "Because of the roughly eleven-day difference between twelve lunar months and one solar year, the year lengths of the Hebrew calendar vary in a repeating 19-year Metonic cycle of 235 lunar months, with an intercalary lunar month added according to defined rules every two or three years, for a total of 7 times per 19 years."

Simply put, the Hebrew calendar enjoys 7 leap years during every 19 year cycle, by adding an extra month at the end of the winter. (Why couldn't they have given us an extra month of summer instead? Go figure.)And so 7 times every 19 years we have an Adar I followed by an Adar II. And both my brother and I were both born in leap years, on the exact same date, 22 years apart, on the 4th of Adar I. If there are any mathematicians out there in cyberworld reading this, I would love to know what the odds are of that happening.

But here's the clincher. I am blessed to be the oldest of 15 children. (Yes. One dad with one mom - till 120. No twins. The hard way. 4 daughters, 11 sons.) Shmulie is the youngest. We are the so-to-say the "book-ends" of our family. Pretty cool - huh? I think so.

Now I'll be perfectly honest. I barely know my brother Shmulie. When he was born in Miami Beach I was already living in New York, one year away from my wedding. Shmulie will be 29 and my oldest daughter Tova will very soon be 28. I guess my relationship with Shmulie is more of an uncle - nephew one than a brother - brother one. I live in Israel, Shmulie with his family in California. It's been quite a while since we've seen each other. I'm not making excuses (or maybe I am) but that's just the reality. Facebook can do just so much.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that in addition to our connection to each other as siblings, our shared birth dates reveal a deep connection between the two of us.

I was named after my mother's grandfather who thank G-d emigrated from Hungary before WW II - before the Nazi (modern day Amalek) invasion. My Great-grandmother probably gets the credit for that decision to leave. Her husband actually preferred Hungary to the United States, but they had the foresight to see the writing on the wall and left good 'ol Hungary while you still could.

But the forbear of my name would be Mordechai of Purim fame. The very joyous holiday of Purim is celebrated this month as well, on the 14th of Adar (15th in Jerusalem). Mordechai, although from the Tribe of Benjamin, is referred to as a "Yehudi" which typically meant coming from the tribe of Judah or the area of Judea. And so what we have here is a member of the Children of Israel being called a Jew in the Tanach (the Book of Esther) for the very first time. One one hand he is a Jew living in exile, in Persia, after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians back in 586 BCE, but living just prior to the end of that 70 year exile when (thanks to his help - and Esther's) the Persian empire ultimately encourages the return of the "Jews" back to their land to rebuild the Second Temple. Cool. Most don't heed the call - not cool. As someone who only recently made aliyah, I relate.

The final verse in the Megilah (Book of Esther) which we read (twice) on Purim says it best; "For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverush - he was a great man among the Jews, and found favor with the multitude of his brethren - he sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of all his seed".

Whew! If only after 120 years I could live up to that! (Well, thanks to my parents I certainly have a multitude of brethren!)

My brother Shmulie was named after Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (b. 1834 - d. 1882) (the Rebbe Maharash) who was the 4th "Lubavitcher Rebbe" of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement, the 7th son of the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe. A most famous aphorism of his is "The world says, 'If you can't crawl under, climb over.' But I say, Lechatchilah Ariber--'At the outset, one should climb over.'" Another is "You cannot fool G-d; ultimately, you cannot fool others either. The only one you can fool is yourself. And to fool a fool is no great achievement." (Not to be confused with another famous quote of that same era "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." attributed to Abraham Lincoln 16th president of US
(b. 1809 - d. 1865).

The forbear of my brother's name is one of the greats of Jewish history; "Shmuel Ha'navi" - Samuel the Prophet. Shmuel Hanavi enjoys the distinction of having anointed both the very fist King of Israel - Saul and his "successor" King David over 3,000 years ago. (The tomb of Samuel the Prophet, located just outside of Jerusalem, is one of my very favorite spots to visit in Israel).

In Jewish thought, a very important theme is the deep connection which exists between the very beginnings of something with its very end. Man/woman is the last of all creation, but only because all of creation preceding is for their sake. We have all been placed in this world with our own particular mission to fulfill during our limited years here on this earth. That is the ultimate purpose of "The Beginning" - creation.

Shmuel Hanavi and Mordechai Ha'Yehudi share a number of common factors. Women (like our own mother) played an extremely important role in their lives. Shmuel Hanavi's mother, Chana, was extremely distressed over being childess (like our own mother). Prior to Shmuel's birth, Chana dedicated her first born child to a life long service of G-d. The first 10 verses of the book of Shmuel I ch. 2 records her song of praise to G-d for answering her petition. According to the Zohar "There were two women who uttered songs and praises to the Holy One, Blessed is He, such as no man in the world ever uttered. Who were they? Devorah and Chana."

The all important woman in Mordechai's life was none other than Esther. And in the Talmud it states: "Who were the seven prophetesses? Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, A'veegayil, Huldah, and Esther."

That's common denominator number one.

Furthermore, both Mordechai and Shmuel lived in times just before the building of the Temple in Jerusalem; the first Temple "the House of David" would be built by King Solomon, David's son after the time of Shmuel and the Second Temple would be built soon after the story of Purim.

More connections can be made between the two. Both were beloved by their people; "All of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheva, knew that Shmuel was faithful as a prophet to Hashem". And the most obvious connection has to do with the Holiday of Purim itself. King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin will lose his Kingship for failing to destroy Amalek as G-d had commanded him to do so. It will be the prophet Shmuel who (albeit not in time) finishes the job meant for King Saul; beheading King Agag of Amalek. Hundreds of years later, when Amalek again rears its ugly head in the guise of Haman (progeny of Agag's final night's stand) who seeks to utterly annihilate the Jewish people, it will be our hero Mordechai (and Esther) - "Jews" from the tribe of Benjamin - who get it right this time and bring about the demise of Haman - Amalek and his family.

I guess I could continue on and discuss the significance of the nummber 22 - the amount of years which separate the birthdays of Shmulie and myself (We always recite psalm 22 just before beginning the first psalm for the 4th of the month - our birthdate) but I'll leave that for others to ponder.

And so happy birthday Shmulie. I love you. Our namesakes have given us a lot to live up to, but thank G-d we are part of a family that has provided us with the tools necessary to be successful in all of our endeavors.

On behalf of Shmulie and myself, thank you Mommy and Daddy. This is our birthdays gift to you.

We love you.

Mordechai "Ha'Yehudi" Ha'Yisra'eli